Everyone loves social media. Many teens and tweens, in particular, use it regularly to connect with their friends, family members, and more. Others use it to make new friends, reaching out to people who share their interests and passions. Social media is an excellent opportunity for teens or tweens who struggle to make friends at school to connect with people who are more like them. Unfortunately, social media has its dark side–and sometimes, it can turn downright dangerous.
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Many smartphone apps offer exactly what teens crave most: the ability to communicate privately with their peers, without their parents being able to check in on the conversation. Unlike Facebook, which stores messages where they can easily be accessed long after they’ve been sent, or text messages, which can be accessed even without the device used to send them, some apps allow for complete anonymity. As soon as the picture or message is seen, it’s deleted. Apps like Kik, for example, allow teens and tweens to message privately–and in some cases, they can get in over their heads.
Take the case of Nicole Lovell, who was just thirteen years old when she was murdered. Nicole had been using Kik to chat with older teenagers who lured her out of her house. She snuck out without her parents’ knowledge–and three days later, they found her body.
Hiding Behind a Screen
Many teens and tweens thrive on the behind-the-screen thrill of sharing racy pictures, discussing things that they would never actually discuss in person, and sharing information that they know would be better kept private. While those behaviors have their own set of issues, predators also have the ability to hide behind a screen. It’s much easier to keep up a false personality when you can control every interaction that you have with a specific individual. John Clark, for example, discovered that his daughter had been groomed from the time she was sixteen by sex traffickers. She had been communicating with her kidnappers for months via Snapchat.
Increasing Body Shaming
Body shaming has become increasingly common among young people in recent years. They’re too fat, too skinny, just “not right.” Social media platforms like Instagram play into this even harder: they allow posters to create the ideal picture, staging optical illusions that make them look “better” than they do in real life. This false picture of reality can, at its worst, lead to extreme eating disorders, depression, and even suicidal thoughts as a result of the feeling that young girls and now just as often boys feel that they will never be able to measure up to those standards.
What Parents Can Do
With all the dangers of social media, how can you stop your child from becoming a victim without making them feel like an outcast? Some tips:
- Monitor all of your child’s social media use. We always recommend an open phone policy so that it is easier to ensure that you child does not have secret accounts. Don’t permit the use of apps that you find inappropriate or dangerous. You can read some of the more popular profiled apps here.
- Observe your child’s behavior. If you have the feeling that something isn’t right or that your child is behaving out of character, act quickly. It’s better to ask questions too early than to wait too long to fix something that’s gone wrong.
- Don’t allow your child to keep a smartphone or tablet in their bedroom after bedtime without using a trustworthy parental control.
- Insist on “off times” for social media apps and texting. Make a habit of turning off devices at bedtime.
Keeping track of your child’s social media use can be difficult. Protecting your child, however, makes monitoring social media critical. There are too many predators lurking online and too many opportunities for things to go wrong for you to be casual about your child’s social media use.
Using a trustworthy parental control software like Netsanity is also a great way to block and manage content that you consider dangerous or inappropriate on your children and teens mobile devices. Knowledge is key!